What Open Adoption Means
Open adoptions can mean many things. In some situations, the birth and adoptive parents might exchange basic information and then have no ongoing contact. The other end of the spectrum includes the birth parents becoming a regular part of the child's life, with a set role in the child's life. Many families find a middle road, such as sending the birth mother photos and an update once a year.
In open adoptions, the birth mother (possibly with the consent and/or assistance of the biological father) selects the adoptive couple, through an agency or a lawyer specializing in adoptions. Hopeful couples or singles seeking to adopt provide resumes and pictures from which the birth mom selects two or three, interviews them, and makes her choice. Through this process she gets to know the adoptive parents. Some adoptive parents go along on doctor appointments or are present in the delivery room. Each birth mother and adoptive parent team must work out what they are comfortable with and what will work for them.
Your child's history is personal and deserves respect. If you're in an open adoption, don't make the mistake of thinking open means you have to give the checkout clerk details about your child's life. There's a distinction between healthy openness and legitimate privacy. This is even more true if your adoption is closed because of abuse or neglect.
Until just a year or two ago, open adoptions were not protected by law; they were informal contracts that could only be enforced by agreement of both parties. Today, some states have passed laws enforcing open-adoption contracts, and you still have the choice of whether or not to enter into one.
The greatest advantage in an open adoption is knowing the physical and genetic history of your child. This will be important for medical reasons, but also to give your child a sense of history. You may also find that you can connect with members of the birth family and empathize with them.
The extended birth family can give unique attention to your adopted child, attention that can help make up for a sense of loss he might feel. Michelle, the adopted mom of David, received an heirloom baby quilt from his biological great-grandmother that her grandmother had knitted, “So he has a blanket from his great, great, great-grandmother, something not many kids can claim.”
Joy and Kurt were delighted about the open adoption of their son. In the years since the birth, they have continued to have a relationship with their son's birth father and the birth father's mother and sister, who come for birthday parties, send Christmas gifts, and call or e-mail. They are happy that their son has a connection to his birth family, and they don't feel overwhelmed by the amount of contact.
If your arrangement with the birth parents or extended family includes in-person visits, you may fear that your child will love her birth parents more, especially if she only sees those parents or relatives occasionally or on vacations or holidays. Remember, though, that the real challenges and rewards of parenting are the day-to-day things; visiting and sending presents is not parenting.
One problem with open adoptions is that you must consent to a plan that may not end up working or being comfortable. If you and the birth mom have a falling out, a yearly visit from her could feel very intrusive and uncomfortable. This is why it is important to be cautious and only agree to what you know you can honor. Often, families find open adoption easier when the child is still very young and does not have a complete understanding of adoption. As a child gets older, questions about adoption and his biological parents' adoption decision can create conflicted feelings, making continued contact with his biological parent or parents difficult.
Open adoption is not for the weak or timid. It is not easy to have a relationship with a broken-hearted birth mom and other relatives. You will find it hard to deal with their pain when you're feeling joy and happiness, but remember that you cannot take responsibility for the biological family's emotions.
All open adoptions are a consensual agreement between both parties; they're a choice that you must weigh carefully. The arrangement is doomed to fail if either party backs out or doesn't live up to the agreed-upon terms.
If the birth parents make commitments to you for visitation and don't keep them, your child will experience a double whammy. She will be upset both for the missed visit or phone call and with you for allowing the problem to happen in the first place.
Figuring out how often and when to allow visits by biological family members can be complicated. Most adoptive families have very limited contact with the birth parents — many do not allow an in-person relationship to develop between child and birth parent during childhood. If you and the birth parent have agreed to frequent visits, remember that the ties to your family are the primary relationship — visits with biological family should never interfere with the attachments you are building. It's very important that your child not be confused about who her parents are or what family she belongs in. As the parent, you must monitor contact and always keep your child's well-being uppermost in your mind.